Press Releases | Trusteeship

Academic Freedom and Standards Win Again at Dartmouth

Alumni Stand up to Electioneering; Vote Down New Constitution
November 3, 2006

WASHINGTON, DC—Dartmouth alumni have decisively rejected a proposed new constitution for alumni governance. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, which has long supported concerned Dartmouth alumni, applauded the vote.

“This vote is another signal victory for academic freedom and standards,” ACTA president Anne D. Neal said. “The new constitution would have imperiled future reform candidacies and silenced concerned alumni.”

The voting was held from September 15 until October 31. A two-thirds “yes” vote was needed for ratification, but a whopping 51 percent of alumni voted “no.”

ACTA has been supporting concerned alumni at Dartmouth for over a decade. ACTA National Council member William K. Tell, Jr. spearheaded the creation of Dartmouth Alumni for Open Governance in the 1990s. In 2004 and 2005, ACTA lauded the election of alumni petition candidates—T.J. Rodgers, Todd Zywicki, and Peter Robinson—to the Dartmouth Board of Trustees on platforms of free speech, academic excellence for undergraduates, and support of athletics. All three opposed the proposed new constitution because it would have imposed burdensome new requirements on future petition candidates.

The campaign to enact the proposed constitution began in May, when the leaders of the Dartmouth Association of Alumni announced that they were “postponing” the scheduled elections for their own offices. ACTA protested this move in a June 1 letter, which resulted in media coverage in the New York Times, New Hampshire Union Leader, Boston Globe, and many other outlets.

Student newspapers from across the political spectrum and the leaders of the New Hampshire Young Democrats and Dartmouth College Republicans all opposed the new constitution

ACTA also expressed concern this fall over electioneering on the part of the Dartmouth administration, which had promised to remain neutral. The irregularities included:

  • A recent graduate said that during his senior year he was called into a meeting with two administrators and berated about an e-mail he had written opposing the new constitution;
  • A student employee also said that his supervisor—a Dartmouth administrator—called him in for a meeting in which he was verbally “attacked for what [he] had written” about the proposed constitution on a website;
  • Four mass e-mails encouraging a “yes” vote were sent to alumni using Dartmouth e-mail servers;
  • Dartmouth president James Wright voted—in his capacity as a Dartmouth trustee—to recommend that alumni vote “yes” on the proposed constitution;
  • Wright also endorsed the proposed constitution in a speech, going on to accuse concerned alumni of uttering “many misleading statements” and “attacks on Dartmouth’s alumni volunteers”; and
  • Concerned alumni said the online ballot was biased. For each provision on it, the Executive Committee of the Dartmouth Association of Alumni inserted a large multi-colored statement endorsing or rejecting the proposed change. No such statements were available to other viewpoints.

“It is extremely telling that the new constitution failed by 18 points, despite a massive internal effort to have it passed,” Neal concluded. “Dartmouth alumni have spoken, clearly showing that majority sentiment favors more openness to alumni concerns and petition trustee candidates. We hope the insiders who pushed so hard—and lost—have gotten the message.”

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, national organization dedicated to academic freedom, academic quality, and accountability. ACTA has a network of trustees and alumni around the country including those from Dartmouth. ACTA has issued numerous reports on higher education, including How Many Ward Churchills?, Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action, The Hollow Core, and Losing America’s Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century.


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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